The new short film Blue Denial depicts the human cost of the atrocities taking place in the Blue Nile State in Sudan. Filmmakers Matthew LeRiche and Viktor Pesenti, who are also behind the feature film South Sudan: The World’s Youngest Nation, use their newest film to shed light on a region and its people caught in the middle of a bloody conflict that has now overtaken their homes, and the lives of their loved ones. The story follows a young photographer named Mohammed, who grew up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, but has returned home to document the atrocities in Blue Nile.
As South Sudan prepared for its independence referendum in the fall of 2011, Blue Nile State was getting ready for its own popular consultation. However, in September, the state government was shut down as Khartoum declared a state of emergency and launched a military offensive. Since then, the fighting has driven over 150,000 people into neighboring Ethiopia and South Sudan as refugees.
As shown in the film, one major tactic used by the Sudanese government is the use of antonovs, high-altitude improvised bombers, which have become a part of daily life in Blue Nile, and present an atmosphere of fear for civilians, causing them to be constantly on the move, hiding in caves, holes, or the bush. Some of the antonovs drop shrapnel, taking limbs or eyes from their victims as they explode.
Matthew LaRiche adds:
“[…] While other crises are in the headlines, the war in Blue Nile continues to kill. Along with other conflicts in Sudan, the fighting and suffering in Blue Nile has been successfully veiled from [international] view by the government of Sudan, rendering it distant from the psych of those that might intervene.
Death in Sudan’s conflicts often lacks the explosive shock and awe of situations such as in Syria. There is little spectacular to the struggle in Blue Nile, except the will and determination of the people to survive. With stoic perseverance, people like Mohammed endure the agony of hunger, disease and forced displacement – caused largely by the terror of aerial bombardment.”
Mohammed’s story shows how the conflict takes more than just a physical toll on the population. Mohammed has his own hopes and dreams, but instead he has now made it his mission to document the story of his home state as the bombs continue to drop.Sometimes he debates joining the Sudan People’s Liberation Army North, or SPLA-N, militia as many of his friends have done, but a soldier helps him realize his true calling, saying:
“Everyone wants to be a soldier because they want to get their names in the history books. But not everyone can be a soldier, because if we all carry the gun, there will be nobody left behind to tell our story.”
For more background on the conflict and stories from the field, check out the Enough Project’s July 2013 report: Sudan’s Bloody Periphery: The Toll on Civilians from the War in the Blue Nile State.